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Where the Heart Is

Can you help employees become homeowners?

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This story appears in the May 2006 issue of Entrepreneur. Subscribe »

Bennett Rosenthal, 52, understands it's financially difficult for many of his 25 employees to afford to live near his insurance company in Deerfield, Illinois, a suburb north of Chicago with a median household income of $112,000 and a 2005 median home price just shy of $413,000. The neighboring suburbs are also upscale. So a number of Rosenthal Bros. employees live outside the area and battle Chicago traffic to get to work on time. During heavy snowfalls, they may not make it in at all.

To cut down on absenteeism and improve morale, Rosenthal Bros. has gone the way of a growing number of U.S. businesses--it offers employees up to $15,000 as part of an employer-assisted housing program. Once a perk for high-power execs, these programs let even the lowest-level wage earners reap benefits by offering forgivable or deferred-payment loans, a grant, a matched savings plan or home-buyer education.

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